Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Interdependency of Common Core Standards, Proficiency Levels, and High Expectations

            An October 12 article by Emma Brown reported Ohio and Arkansas politicians and their State Education Agents (SEA) decided to redefine what “proficiency” means based on the results on their Common Core tests.  This action inflates the performance of its students.  One result of embracing lower levels of proficiency is diminished expectations to achieve the mission of learning for all.  
            Forty-four states and the District of Columbia continue to implement the Common Core State Standards.  Several states sought to avoid the politically-toxic Common Core name by using alternate names.  However, while the Missouri Learning Standards or the North Carolina Standard Course of Study avoid the Common Core name, their tests of adequate yearly progress are still designed to measure learning based on Common Core Standards. 
            Neither the Mathematics or ELA minimal standards at grade level collectively identified as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or any related assessments of student progress, such as the PARCC or Smarter Balanced, reduce student aspirations or potential.  Idiomatically, "A rising tide lifts all boats."  The effect of lowering the cut points that determine proficiency is false identification of progress.  Such a lie puts a hole into an educational system’s expectations and forecloses that system's students.  An effective educational system embraces high standards for success, thereby guiding its students to "reach for the stars.”  By contrast, lowering levels of proficiency reinforces a containment culture whereby too much credit is provided for a student’s ability to hit the ceiling with a pencil.
            A thorough review of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report card reveals the disparity of education by state.  NAEP math and reading tests are given every other year to a representative sample of fourth and eighth graders.  Nationwide, 2015 score results were down on three of the four tests, which critics of Common Core will use as evidence that the standards do not work.  However, as reported by Felton (2015), NAEP scores from the four states that never adopted the Common Core: Virginia, Nebraska, Alaska, and Texas, also exhibited a downward trend compared to 2013 NAEP results. 
            It is more important to examine NAEP results to identify states with the highest performing students.  Finding many of the states with the lowest performing students are the same states with politicians and SEA that will lower cut points for proficiency should not be surprising.  It should also be noted that many of the states with the lowest performing students either opted out or are now seeking to opt out of the CCSS.  Rather than focusing on the 2015 NAEP results as proof that the Common Core Standards are ineffective, the state-by-state disparity of 2015 NAEP results actually add to the rationale for the Common Core.  The state-by-state disparity that is clearly recorded in NAEP results since 1998 reinforce the need for common standards, rigorous assessment of learning, and great expectations established through a high level of proficiency.
            The leaders of states with consistently low performing school systems seem to embrace a philosophy of avoiding the truth rather than embracing a concerted effort for educational reform. Explication of minimal grade level benchmarks for learning at each grade level, which the CCSS provides, creates opportunities and realistic expectations.  Standards such as the CCSS represent the minimal level of expected achievement not the final destination for all students.  It is prudent to suggest leaders willing to lower expectations or discard a system of research-based minimal level of achievement, want sheep rather than "an informed citizenry (Jefferson) who will be capable of protecting government of the people, by the people, for the people (Lincoln, 1863). 
            A state’s commitment to Common Core math and ELA standards has been related to an upward proficiency trend (Petersen & Ackerman, 2015).  Effectively teaching our children is the greatest societal responsibility because the educational search for truth frees our minds, strengthens our spirits, and secures our society.  By contrast, any state educational system exhibiting a lack of willingness to optimally educate its students encourages ignorance and disempowerment.  Such a system perpetuates fear and hopelessness, which is the food for prisons of the mind and spirit.
            The goal of an effective educational system must be driven by an honorable mission.  Effective Schools Research suggests the mission for educational systems is "learning for all" (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011).  Educational systems dedicated to such a mission willingly provide the necessary tools so the outcome is everyone knows how to "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (October 29, 2015) The interdependency of common core standards, proficiency 
               levels, and high expectations.[Web log post] Retrieved from
Crawford, J. (2012). Aligning your curriculum to the common core state standards. Thousand
               Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective Schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership, 37,
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
               correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press
Manley, R. J., & Hawkins, R. J. (2013). Common core state standards: What are they?
               In Making the common core standards work: Using professional development to
               build world-class schools. (pp. 19-31). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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